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Does Donald Trump Jr.’s India visit blur an ethical line?

Donald Trump Jr. says his trip to India is strictly business. But in addition to promoting units at Trump-branded luxury properties, which will ultimately benefit the president, Trump Jr. also plans to give a foreign policy speech that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is likely to attend. Lisa Desjardins talks to Sumit Ganguly of Indiana University Bloomington about the ethical concerns.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Donald Trump Jr. landed in India today to begin what will be a weeklong trip across the country.

    Lisa Desjardins reports on some ethical questions raised by his visit.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Judy, the president's son says this trip is strictly business. He says he's there to promote and sell condominium units at four different Trump-branded luxury properties, sales that the president would eventually profit from.

    But ethics experts say they're concerned that Donald Trump Jr. is also mixing business with state affairs. He is set to deliver a foreign policy speech — and its title at least indicates it's a foreign policy speech — at the end of this week.

    That's an event that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is likely to attend.

    Sumit Ganguly is a political science professor at Indiana University-Bloomington.

    And I want to start. You just returned from India. Can you take us through the role of Trump business in India, where it fits, and then also the politics of a trip like this?

  • Sumit Ganguly:


    To begin with, these are massive investments and extremely high-end investments in real estate. Some of the largest Indian developers of real estate are working with Trump in developing these properties in four major metropolitan areas, including in the town where I grew up in, Calcutta, with a population of 14 million people.

    And there is now a segment of India's population with a very substantial disposable income, which likes glitzy, luxurious high-end properties, which are also closed properties, where they're sort of spared from the squalor of India.

    And they have these nice sequestered environments. And what better than to have the name of the president of the United States emblazoned across that property?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    So these are high-profile, certainly very high-interest deals in India.

    Also raising eyebrows, though, in a way that I think is raising questions are some ads that we saw, full-page ads this week in Indian newspapers, showing Donald Trump Jr., full page, and then this double entendre quote saying: "Trump is here. Are you invited?"

    Can you take us through the ethics here? They're selling condos, but there they're also advertising access. Are they selling access? Is that how this would be interpreted in India?

  • Sumit Ganguly:

    They're not selling access directly, but it raises a question, if the president's name is on this property, if his son is hawking these properties, and then giving a foreign policy address, it sort of commingles business and at the same time politics.

    And, of course, the entire apparatus of the United States government that's present in India is going to be facilitating his visit. So, it sort of raises questions about certain lines being blurred, that where does sort of a simple property development end, and where do sort of the president's personal interests, particularly financial interests, become implicated?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Donald Trump Jr., though, is a private businessman. He says he's already voluntarily said no new deals as long as my father is president.

    But should he be forced to limit himself because his name, which he makes his money off of, is also the president's name, if you follow me?

  • Sumit Ganguly:

    Yes, I certainly do.

    But the issue is not simply a matter that these deals were already under way, but the fact is that why, as a private citizen, is he giving a foreign policy speech, where the prime minister of India may be present?

    And also when one of the developers happens to be a critical member of the Bharatiya Janata Party, which is the party currently in power. It is blurring certain lines which I think really should be kept quite separate.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    The title of that address, as advertised by the summit organization, is "Reshaping Indo-Pacific Ties." That's an active title, even muscular.

    We reached out to the Trump Organization to try and get information about what Donald Trump Jr. would say. They didn't get back to us.

    But something like that, is that usual for a businessman? And would Indians, do you think, interpret what he says as representing U.S. policy?

  • Sumit Ganguly:

    They could certainly construe this as an endorsement of American policy or a statement of American policy, given that it's coming from the president's son, who, though he has no sort of formal role in government, has nevertheless been seen in sort of critical places in the White House.

    And, consequently, again, we are talking about sort of failing to keep certain lines very, very clear, that one is a purely business enterprise, and another is reflecting American foreign policy interests.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    And the State Department has said that he's there as a private citizen.

    Sumit Ganguly, thank you so much for joining us.

  • Sumit Ganguly:

    My pleasure entirely. Thank you.

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